Most memoirs detailing a difficult childhood stop once the tragedy is told and the happy ending is revealed. This is not the case with Little Madhouse on the Prairie, by Marion Elizabeth Witte. What sets this poignant memoir apart is that it goes on, into the author’s adulthood. It tells us what happens after the so-called happy ending, when real life sets in and the repercussions of a childhood filled with abuse, neglect, and cruelty are made painfully clear and can no longer be ignored.
Throughout the book, Witte shares deeply personal episodes of her lonely and often terrifying upbringing on the plains of North Dakota. Reading about the abuse endured by an innocent child is never easy, and Witte’s experiences were especially unpleasant. As ugly as her childhood was, I found it refreshing that she was able to recall some bright spots as well, to temper the real life nightmare she was living. While writing her memoir must have surely been cathartic, it is much more than a self-serving tome attempting to shock its readers with tales of unimaginable horrors. It is a testament to other children living in similar situations. It is a reminder that we all have a responsibility to those children, to pay attention to their bruises, believe their far-fetched stories, and step in whenever necessary. Finally, it is an eye-opener, revealing that once abused children become adults, the psychological blueprint caused by their abuse does not miraculously disappear. It might be well hidden by families, careers, and upbeat personalities, but it remains in place, shooting invisible daggers into all realms of the survivor’s adult life.
Little Madhouse on the Prairie is an insightful and interesting read. While, due to its subject matter, the book’s very nature is depressing and rather melancholy, I also found it to be quite enlightening, as it delved deeply into how Witte’s childhood experiences continued to affect her well into adulthood. I commend her for continuing her road to self-discovery, for doing the hard work necessary to grow and move on from her tragic past, and for bravely sharing it all with her readers.
Alysia lives in Metro Detroit with her husband and four children. She writes about family life, parenting issues, and other things of interest to her on her blog, Michigal.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Marion Elizabeth Witte. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.